Despite blowing big lead, Falcons remain cool as Ice

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.comJanuary 14, 2013 

ATLANTA — It took the Seattle Seahawks until late in the fourth quarter to erase a 20-point deficit Sunday. It took them two elementary pass plays to give back their edge.

But the Seahawks need not be ashamed about their failure to put away the Atlanta Falcons in a divisional playoff game for the ages. While fans inside the Georgia Dome might have turned queasy after Russell Wilson directed the Seahawks on their fourth touchdown drive of the second half, the players on the Atlanta sideline counted their blessings.

They had a quarterback in his fifth season, a tight end in his 16th season, and a kicker in his 11th season.

When the clock shows 31 seconds remaining, it’s a comfort to be able to lean on 32 combined years of NFL experience.

“I walked down and told the offensive line and all the receivers: ‘You know we’ve done this before,’ ” kicker Matt Bryant said after converting the 49-yard field-goal attempt that gave the Falcons a 30-28 victory.

With the ball at the Atlanta 28, Bryant’s “Been There, Done That” rallying call was repeated by offensive tackle Tyson Clabo in the Falcons’ huddle.

“He mentioned that all we need is 30 yards,” center Todd McClure said. “When you think about it like that, it’s just two pass plays.”

Matt Ryan completed the first pass to wide receiver Harry Douglas, given room to make a 22-yard catch at midfield in front of cornerback Brandon Browner and linebacker Bobby Wagner. At least the Seahawks were able to keep Douglas in bounds, forcing the Falcons to call their second time out.

But there were still 19 seconds remaining, plenty of time for Ryan to identify tight end Tony Gonzalez at the Seahawks’ 35, then he gained 4 more yards.

“Probably the most important catch I’ve ever made,” Gonzalez said, “and one of the easiest. Matt put it right there on my chest.”

For those who want to second-guess Seattle’s scheme on the play – and in the aftermath of an inspired victory undone by two passes as fundamental as bread and butter, second-guessing is legitimate – the Seahawks were not victims of their own prevent scheme.

Without injured defensive end Chris Clemons, the Seahawks tried to hurry Ryan with five-man rush that included three down linemen as well as safety Winston Guy and cornerback Marcus Trufant.

“They did add rushers,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “It wasn’t a drop-eight situation. They did add rushers. But we played our roles and were able to block it up and Matt was able to get the ball to Tony. That’s the appropriate guy to catch the ball in that situation.”

Once Ryan found Gonazalez, it was merely a matter of the Falcons executing a standard-issue kick under a roof that minimizes kicking-game mistakes.

Josh Harris’ snap was sure, Matt Bosher’s hold was secure, and Bryant sent the ball halfway to Valdosta.

“I don’t even concern myself when Matt lines up to kick,” Smith said. “I’ve seen him too many times kick in pressure situations. He lined up and kicked it through the pipes again.”

Bryant’s kick scotched a Seahawks’ effort that deserves to be remembered as among the most remarkable second-half comebacks in NFL playoff history.

Ah, but part of the deal is finishing the deal, and when the air pressure in the Georgia Dome reached a point that might have suffocated a younger team, the Falcons answered with the poise of those who’ve done this drill a few times.

“Our quarterback, guys and ladies, is a special player,” Smith said. “He did a great job there on that last drive. I know his nickname is Matty Ice. But I feel we have two Matty Ices. We got Matty ‘Ice’ Ryan and Matty ‘Ice’ Bryant.”

It was the craziest of days. What looked like a drubbing turned out to be a thriller decided by an Ice kicking.

playoff breakthrough

With the win over the Seahawks on Sunday, the Falcons improved to 7-11 all-time in the playoffs. Quarterback Matt Ryan and coach Mike Smith earned their first win for Atlanta in four postseason appearances. Their combined results:

SeasonNFC seedPlayoff roundResult

20121DivisionalAt Falcons 30, Seahawks 28

20115Wild CardAt Giants 24, Falcons 2

20101DivisionalPackers 48, at Falcons 21

20085Wild CardAt Cardinals 30, Falcons 24

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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